Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 11, 2022

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 11, 2022

Date: July 15, 2022

By E. Lydia Rodriguez and Nina Raj

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from Council meetings related to our Community Agenda items


For this summary, we will focus on two meetings: the Regular Meeting, and the Police Oversight Committee Meeting. The Regular Meeting is the Common Council's primary meeting, where they make official decisions on issues. The Police Oversight Committee concerns all issues dealing with the Buffalo Police Department.

At the top of the agenda for the Regular Meeting was a redistricting question of whether the Common Council can accept alternative maps recommended outside the Citizens Advisory Commission on Reapportionment. Council President Pridgen announced the Council paused the process to receive advice from Corporation Counsel. Several protestors attended the meeting, shouting, "This is what democracy looks like!" as Common Council attempted to discuss the item.

Protestors' chants throughout the meeting were muted on the Facebook Live recording. One virtual attendee commented, "Stop muting the community members in the background. It limits the right to full participation and engagement for those of us who are attending virtually." 

Council President Pridgen responded to advocates, stating, "I want to keep everyone in the chambers, and I want to respect everyone. I want us to respect each other, and so I would ask that we would be able to move forward." 

Assistant Corporation Counsel Carin Gordon was present at the Regular Meeting to explain why Council could not accept alternative maps outside the Citizens Advisory Commission on Reapportionment. She noted the City of Buffalo Charter Article 18 § 18-10, following New York State Constitution Article 3 § 5(b), to highlight forming an independent commission every 10 years after a census to consider new data. 

Gordon raised Buffalo City Charter Article 18 § 18-14, which states the Common Council "shall consider the recommendations of the citizens advisory commission on reapportionment and, guided by the criteria set forth in section 18-16, adopt a plan determining the number of district and at-large council seats and dividing the city into districts for the election of district council members." However, any changes the Council makes—or changes made in consideration by the commission—whether based on inputs from the public (or not) cannot violate Article 3 § 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law that subjects specific local laws to a mandatory referendum. Based on Corporation Counsel Gordon's response, erasing and adding council districts requires registered voters to vote in favor or oppose the measure. In other words, a council member presiding over a district based on an election cannot have his/her/their position and district removed without a referendum.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Gordon also noted that the Citizens Advisory Commission on Reapportionment held four public meetings since April 20 that were open to the public for recommendations. She explained each session was available for the public to attend via Zoom and that only one person went to the final meeting on May 18 (four days after the domestic terrorism attack on Jefferson Avenue). The commission submitted its maps to the Council the public later scrutinized once on the agenda during a public hearing in June. Gordon indicated the commission had been decommissioned after completing its task and that without that established vehicle—to accept new plans and maps—all Common Council can do is receive public comments and considerations.

Following a public outcry from attendees in Council Chambers, Council President Pridgen thanked the community for voicing their opinion. Common Council discharged and recommitted the reapportionment plan to the Legislation Committee. A discussion will take place on July 19 at 2 p.m.

Common Council held a roll call vote for the appointment of Delano Dowell as Commissioner of Administration, Finance, and Policy on Urban Affairs. Members of the Council shared remarks on their support of Dowell and voted unanimously for his appointment. The meeting concluded with motions to recommit and refer a number of the remaining items to other committees. 

During the Police Oversight Committee meeting, Buffalo Police Department (BPD) Commissioner Gramaglia delivered an update on recent police initiatives to Council and the Community Police Advisory Board. First, Gramaglia announced the department's "micro-hotspot" plan to place officers on directed patrols at locations and times identified as prone to violence by crime prevention data. Officers will park their cars at their designated area, activate their police light flashers, and walk foot patrol in hopes of deterring potential crime with their presence. Gramaglia said the Buffalo police prioritize remaining visible, present, and engaged with the community. Council Member Bollman said his residents always ask for direct patrols and that officers have made good connections with their areas.

Gramaglia also celebrated that shootings are down almost 40% compared to 2021, though he noted that guns are still a problem. In particular, Gramaglia said seizures of ghost guns, or homemade firearms, have increased over 100% since last year, which was a 1300% increase from 2020. According to Commissioner Gramaglia, the BPD has confiscated 42 guns since January, several of which were AR-15-style weapons. 

Additionally, BPD is working to crack down on "pop-up parties" by placing police details at known party locations to get ahead of their formation. Gramaglia said this has successfully prevented parties from growing too large or turning violent. The department hired a new Behavioral Health Team detective to specialize in mental health investigations, threat assessments, and red flag applications. Gramaglia said the detective would have the same training as the rest of the Behavioral Health Team. 

BPD hosted its first "Taking It to the Streets" event, where officers interacted with the community over lunch, gave away bikes and helmets to kids, and set up health and welfare tents. Commissioner Gramaglia encouraged residents to look out for the community events each district's stationhouse will host later in the summer. In response to recent shootings across the nation, he announced that SWAT members, drones, and an increased police presence would be at large gatherings and make their attendance purposefully visible. 

Police Oversight Committee Chair Rivera raised community concerns regarding illegal dirt bikes and ATVs on the road and frustration that more isn't done to address the issue. Commissioner Gramaglia responded that ATVs and dirt bikes are not allowed on the street, but it's difficult for police to stop and impound the vehicles safely. While officers sometimes don't pursue drivers to avoid fatal collisions, Gramaglia stated the department has seized 98 of these illegal vehicles this year and will issue all summons and arrests applicable against drivers. Chair Rivera added that the penalty for driving an illegal vehicle is $2,500, not including towing and storage fees. 

Finally, the new Community Police Advisory Committee is meeting to elect its leadership and put together bylaws. Commissioner Gramaglia desired to meet with them regularly once they were fully established. 

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx